Kauai: Our Beautiful Proving Ground
Why Kauai and why our Kauai Surf Co. waterproof backpacks you may ask? Well, Kauai's famous record-breaking rains have made waterproof backpacks and dry bags a thing on the island. Look around, and you'll often see local residents using true waterproof backpacks, with roll top dry bag closures, for their daily activities. Much like wetsuits were inspired by the cold California waters, we get our inspiration from the island's wet tropical climate. In this environment we have learned what works, and what doesn't work for waterproof backpacks and have applied that knowledge to our own line of surf backpacks. This is our core competency.
ABOVE: Our Kauai Surf Co. "Alakai Series" Waterproof Backpack at Queen's Bath
But Kauai is much more than a place that rains. Kauai is an amazing island with many climates, providing a valuable proving ground for our waterproof backpacks and other accessories. The various climates and locales support a variety of outdoor activities, and we have tested our gear all over the island in many different settings and activities. From the Kilohana Lookout to the Kalalau Trail, our packs and accessories have been tested to the extreme. Following is some general info about Kauai and our beautiful proving ground.
Kauai: The Garden Island
Kauai, also known as the Garden Island because of its lush and vibrant landscape, is the fourth-largest of the Hawaiian islands. The exquisite island is a favorite destination for people who love adventure and appreciate natural beauty.
Golden beaches ring this island paradise, and mountain trails draped with tropical forests lead to incredible vistas. Epic sea cliffs can be found on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast, and at 3,000 feet deep, the island’s Waimea Canyon is appropriately called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” The island’s tropical North Shore features the stunning Hanalei Bay where movies such as South Pacific and The Descendants were filmed.
In the island’s vast, mostly inaccessible interior, is a scene straight out of Jurassic Park. In fact, the movie was filmed here. Mt. Waialeale, near the island’s center, is one of the wettest places on Earth. Frequent rains in the interior nourish the island and bring waterfalls and rainbows.
Above: Hanalei River
Kauai is best experienced with a range of outdoor activities. Hike or kayak the Na Pali Coast for the ultimate adventure. Paddle up the Wailua River to a secret waterfall. And snorkel the clear waters of the world famous Tunnels Beach reef.
Though Kauai is an island for adventure, it is also a place for serenity, rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. The island’s zen ambiance, aloha spirit, laid-back style, surfer vibe and natural energy, combined with refreshing breezes, nourishing foods and soothing ocean sounds, will soothe and restore the soul.
ABOVE: Hanalei Town on Kauai's North Shore
A resident population of only about 70,000 reside in small towns along the coastline. The towns aren’t fancy, but they all have a small-town charm with unique establishments and delicious eateries set between blue waters and green mountains. It is, in many ways, the Hawaii of yesteryear.
Kauai is a place for nature lovers and adventurers!
Kauai is unlike the other Hawaiian islands. It stands out for its raw beauty and adventurous opportunities. Here you won’t find thousands of people laying on the beach. On Kauai you will find unpretentious lovers of nature actively pursuing a range of outdoor activities, including hiking, surfing, swimming, snorkeling, fishing and much more.
Above: Na Pali Coast
The best things on the island are free, including Kauai’s many beautiful beaches, trails and waterfalls. There are also a number of tours and activities that allow you to experience the island in varied and unique ways. Na Pali Coast sunset cruises and helicopter tours offer unique perspectives of the jaw-dropping island. ATV tours, zipline rides and a water tubing experience are also high on the list of exciting things to do on Kauai. And after an exciting day, a luau and dinner is a nice way to spend a Hawaiian evening.
ABOVE: Rain showers at Hanalei Bay
Though often humid, temperatures generally stay in the 75-85 degree range year-round. At higher elevations, including the Waimea Canyon area, temperatures can dip into the 60s, and even the 50s, so a light jacket may be in order. Rains are common, especially on the North Shore, but they bring waterfalls, rainbows and green mountains. Alas, there is plenty of tropical sun too, notably on the island’s south and west sides. If it’s raining in your area, you might find sunny skies elsewhere on the island, so have backup destinations in mind.
People who visit Kauai are often seeking peace, solitude, relaxation, beauty and adventure in nature. About one in six visitors are from California which is just a hop, skip and a jump away on direct flights. Kauai is a favorite honeymoon destination. You’ll meet more than a few doctors and dentists on Kauai. The exquisite island attracts professionals and entrepreneurs who could visit or live anywhere, yet they choose Kauai over all else. Nature lovers, hippies, free spirits, new agers, treehuggers, flower children, free thinkers and people who believe in past lives are also prominent on the island.
ABOVE: Poipu, Kauai
Where to Stay on Kauai
We’ve talked about the rain, but there’s plenty of sun on Kauai also, especially on the island’s southern shore. Sun worshippers will love the resort town of Poipu, where sunny beaches beckon. The town boasts a number of resorts, including the Grand Hyatt Kauai, perhaps the best resort on the island. Nearby are some of the island’s best restaurants and shopping.
ABOVE: Kapaa Bike Path
Kapaa, on the island’s eastern “Coconut Coast” is another favorite. This town boasts a number of mid-range hotels and accommodations, including Kauai’s only two hostels. It also boasts the Kauai Bike Path, a wonderful seaside pathway that is a favorite for biking, walking, jogging and strolling. Centrally located, Kapaa is a good place to be in the middle of it all.
ABOVE: Princeville, Kauai
On Kauai’s tropical North Shore you will find the resort community of Princeville and the quaint surf town of Hanalei at beautiful Hanalei Bay. There are some houses to rent in Hanalei, however, most people stay up the hill in Princeville where a multitude of condos and houses are available for rent. The acclaimed Princeville Resort (currently being renovated under new ownership) is also here, and is basically the one true hotel on the North Shore.
What to Wear on Kauai
Kauai is a laid back island where the attire is best-defined as “island casual.” Here, no one is trying to impress anyone. In fact, people come to Kauai to chill, relax and get away from it all, and that is reflected. Shorts, surf tees, swim wear and flip flops are the standard attire of the day. Often this attire becomes wet or muddy in various Kauai activities, and that’s how many people show up for lunch and dinner, no problem. Moisture-wicking shirts, such as our Ultimate Kauai Shirt, work well on the humid island. Hiking shoes should be suited for wet and muddy trails. Moreover, white shoes do not fare well with the island’s signature red dirt (and mud). For luaus and nice restaurants the attire is nice shorts, nice shirts (including Hawaiian shirts), or perhaps resort/beach/sun dresses for the ladies.
The sun shines bright on Kauai, and you’ll want to dress appropriately with wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved board shirts during certain outdoor activities. Most importantly, be sure to wear plenty of reef-safe sunscreen!
Nickname: The Garden Island
Square Miles: 562.3 square miles (1430.4 km)
Size: 33 miles wide and 25 miles across
Highest point: Kawaikini – 5,243 ft (about 1 mile) (1,598 m)
Population: 72,839 (2020)
Official Flower: Mokihana
Official Color: Purple (Poni)
Age: 5-6 million years old
Climate: 75 to 85 degrees year-round
County Seat: Lihue
Official Bird: The helicopter (a local joke because of the number of helicopter tours on the island.)
Kauai Frequently Asked Questions
Is Kauai expensive?
The simple answer is yes. Airfare is often more expensive to Kauai than the other Hawaiian islands. Remote and isolated, prices on essentials such as food and gasoline are significantly higher than on the mainland. If you’re looking for real estate, prices start at $500,000 for the basics and quickly rise to $1 million or more for nicer properties. However, the best things on Kauai are free including epic beaches and a myriad of beautiful hiking trails. A little planning can make a vacation to Kauai just about as affordable as any other destination. Consider non-peak travel periods including May and September through November. Don’t pay the exorbitant prices found at many island hotels, but find a condo with kitchen on VRBO or Airbnb. Purchase your food and essentials at Walmart or Costco in Lihue after renting your car at the airport.
Is Kauai safe?
Kauai is safe, but potential dangers lurk everywhere on this island of jagged mountain peaks surrounded by roiling ocean waters.
First, the best news. Despite being covered by tropical forests, there are virtually no dangerous wild animals or snakes whatsoever on the island. There are a few centipedes, ants and spiders hanging around, but they are usually not a problem.
The island’s wet tropical climate presents more than a few problems to watch out for. Trails are often muddy and slippery. Normally placid streams can become torrential during or after heavy rains. Some popular attractions such as waterfalls and isolated beaches can have steep trails where one slip can result in broken bones or worse. Ocean waters inherently present safety challenges. Strong surf, powerful riptides (especially at the mouths of rivers) and waves crashing onto rocks where people are standing are just some of the dangers.
In most cases you will find drivers on Kauai much more courteous than in other parts of the world. However, much of the island is serviced by two-lane highways which creates problems with oncoming traffic and vehicles pulling into the roadway from side streets, so watch out!
As for crime, tourist areas are generally safe but vehicle break-ins are known to happen. Do not leave your valuables in your vehicle, even in your trunk, especially when parked at hiking trails and beaches. Consider being dropped off at hiking trails if spending the night as vehicles left overnight at trailheads are sometimes targeted by vandals and thieves.
In summation, be smart, be observant and don’t try to do anything “stupid” or beyond your capabilities on your visit to Kauai.
Are there sharks on Kauai?
Again, the simple answer is yes, however shark sightings are rare and shark attacks are even more rare. Nevertheless, there are several shark incidences per year on the island. If there is a shark sighting, lifeguards will close the beach and possibly nearby beaches. Sharks rarely get close to the shore, however surfers and snorkelers who venture out from the shoreline are more likely to experience a shark incident. Heavy rains may increase the shark presence near stream mouths as runoff may contain dead fish and animals, rubbish and other matter that may attract sharks. And of course, do not go in the water if you are bleeding or have open wounds!